The Integration of Tuskegee High School: new play highlights role in history played by attorney Fred Gray

Thursday, April 28th, 2016 by Brian Seidman

Legendary civil rights attorney Fred Gray has received accolades from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, American Bar Association, and the NAACP, among many others. Now he is honored with a play that brings the history related to the integration of the Tuskegee High School, with which he was much involved, to dramatic life. Written and directed by Dr. Tessa Carr on the faculty at Auburn University and presented by the Mosaic Theatre Company, The Integration of Tuskegee High School tells the story of Attorney Gray’s role in the pivotal 1963 desegregation lawsuit.

Civil rights attorney Fred Gray and London Carlisle, the actor who plays Gray in The Integration of Tuskegee High School

Civil rights attorney Fred Gray and London Carlisle, the actor who plays Gray in The Integration of Tuskegee High School.

The play was the inspiration of Dr. Mark Wilson at Auburn’s Carolyn Marshall Draughon Center, who believed that a series of interviews with students and community leaders who had lived through school desegregation would be a good basis for a dramatic work. Dr. Carr, Artistic Director of the Mosaic Theatre Company, was equally inspired in the writing of it. In her research she says she was struck by the extraordinary difference in the experiences of Caucasian and African American students involved in the events. It was her aim, she told Auburn University’s Perspectives “to put their voices in conversation — voices that had never had the opportunity to be in conversation before.”

The play was first performed in 2014. The new production includes the voice of Attorney Gray as a guiding narrator. After the premiere, Dr. Mark Wilson told The Plainsman it was so powerful he was left speechless. He noted that the performance would be available for online viewing.

Attorney Gray attended a special invitation-only performance on April 16, where he met London Carlisle, the actor playing himself. In an interview with the Opelika-Auburn News, Gray wryly remarked, “The stage presentation was a good enactment of quite a bit of what you just didn’t see in every day life.” After the performance, Attorney Gray told the Plainsman, “We still have a lot of problems. We need to work on them and not take 50 more years to solve them.”

Fred Gray’s memoir, Bus Ride to Justice: Changing the System by the System, The Life and Works of Fred Gray, is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Historian Virginia Van der Veer Hamilton remembered by Leah Rawls Atkins

Thursday, April 21st, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

Teddy's Child by Virginia Van der Veer Hamilton

Alabama lost one of its most distinguished historians with the death of Virginia Van der Veer Hamilton. NewSouth Books was proud to have published the final memoir of this pioneering journalist and educator, Teddy’s Child: Growing Up in the Anxious Southern Gentry Between the Great Wars. Dr. Hamilton’s life was as colorful and inspiring as any history she taught. Distinguished historian Leah Rawls Atkins remembered the influential professor in a piece for Alabama NewsCenter, calling Dr. Hamilton one of the “finest teachers and role models for young women interested in studying history.”

Dr. Atkins lists the remarkable details of Hamilton’s career: Associated Press correspondent in Washington, D.C. during World War II, Birmingham News reporter, history professor at Birmingham-Southern, the University of Montevallo, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and the University of Alabama, author of numerous books of history and memoir. She focuses on Hamilton’s legacy as a pioneer — the second woman to earn a PhD in history from the University of Alabama — and a historian who presented a unique take on Alabama history in her innovative text Alabama: A History, which recounts the stories of sociological groups who most impacted the state.

Dr. Atkins notes: “Hamilton changed the way history was taught in Alabama. . . . She advocated for the equality of women in history, and capped her career directing a departmental faculty at UAB that was roughly half male and half female — more closely matching the true ratio of men and women in the population. Young women in Alabama in 2016 may not realize who influenced the greater professional equality they now enjoy. Virginia Van deer Hamilton played a large role in that history.”

A fitting tribute to a remarkable woman. We mourn her passing but celebrate her legacy.

Teddy’s Child is available from NewSouth Books.

Frye Gaillard named 2016 Eugene Current-Garcia Award winner

Friday, April 15th, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

Our good friend and esteemed author Frye Gaillard has just won the Eugene Current-Garcia Distinguished Scholar Award, which was presented at the Alabama Writers Symposium, held annually in Monroeville. The award recognizes “scholarly reflection and writing on literary topics.” Nominations for the award are made by recognized scholars in the field and reflect the respect of the winner’s peers in the academic community.

This award is the latest for Frye, one of the most respected journalist-historians working in the Southeast today. His previous honors include the Lillian Smith Award for non-fiction, the Clarence Cason Award for non-fiction, and the Alabama Library Association Book of the Year Award.

Frye Gaillard wins Eugene Current-Garcia Distinguished Scholar Award

From left: Alisha Linam, Director of the Alabama Center for Literary Arts; Roger Chandler, President of Alabama Southern Community College; Al Head, Executive Director of the Alabama State Council on the Arts; Dr. Edward O. Wilson, 2016 Harper Lee Award Winner; Frye Gaillard, 2016 Eugene Current-Garcia Award Winner; Armand DeKeyser, Executive Director of the Alabama Humanities Foundation; and Jeanie Thompson, Executive Director of the Alabama Writers Forum.

Frye continues a limited tour presenting about his recently released book, Journey to the Wilderness: War, Memory, and a Southern Family’s Civil War Letters — a powerful work that is a personal inquiry into how the Civil War has shaped our Southern identity. He is one of NewSouth’s most in-demand speakers. A writer in residence at the University of South Alabama, Frye is the author of more than twenty books, including The Books That Mattered: A Reader’s Memoir and Watermelon Wine, both published by NewSouth, and Cradle of Freedom: Alabama and the Movement That Changed America.

Look for Frye’s first book for middle-schoolers, Go South to Freedom, coming this fall from NewSouth Books. The book retells a story he heard from an elderly friend, the great-grandson of slaves, that has never been published before.

Congratulations, Frye, and continued publishing success!

Journey to the Wilderness, The Books That Mattered, and Watermelon Wine are all available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Richmond Times-Dispatch recaps highlights of Ross Howell Jr.’s Library of Virginia event

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

Forsaken by Ross Howell

Michael Paul Williams of the Richmond Times-Dispatch offers a stunning interview with Ross Howell Jr. about the writing of the historical novel Forsaken. Williams noted that he “had the pleasure of introducing” Howell at the Library of Virginia. The piece includes insight from Howell on why he created the narrator Charlie Mears to tell the story of executed juvenile Virginia Christian, and the relevance of her story to the Black Lives Matter movement today.

Williams quotes Howell as having a moment in which he imagined Oprah Winrey interviewing him about how he as a white male could have insight into the person of Virginia Christian. Having created a character with which to view the story of the young girl’s trial and execution, Howell was able to further explore the affect of racism on whites as well as blacks in early twentieth-century America. He noted that the residue of that racism is still with us into the twenty-first century:

“Today, we have more young black males incarcerated than at any time of our history. … We’ve seen videos of unarmed black men and boys being killed by police officers with such frequency that it’s mind-numbing. Virgie Christian’s life and death were shaped by the fear and hate of one race for another. I saw it a half-century ago. And now, a century after the girl’s death, we see fear and hate are with us still. What I hope for this novel is that readers will take away empathy and the firm resolve to honor human rights and human dignity.”

The story highlights the research Howell did at the Library of Virginia and provides a link to the digital bibliography for the book created there. The bibliography is the gift of senior archivist Roger Christman, whose own insights into the history are beautifully captured in a recent blog posting on the Library of Virginia website.

Forsaken is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite book retailer.

Crooked Letter i named a finalist for INDIEFAB Book Award

Thursday, March 24th, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the South, edited by Connie GriffinNewSouth Books is pleased to announce that Crooked Letter i has been recognized as a finalist in the 18th annual Foreword ReviewsINDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards.

Each year, Foreword Reviews shines a light on a select group of indie publishers, university presses, and self-published authors whose work stands out from the crowd. “The 2015 INDIEFAB finalist selection process is as inspiring as it is rigorous,” said Victoria Sutherland, publisher of Foreword Reviews. “The strength of this list of finalists is further proof that small, independent publishers are taking their rightful place as the new driving force of the entire publishing industry.”

Congratulations to all the contributors to Crooked Letter i and to editor Connie Griffin!

Crooked Letter i is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite book retailer.

Award-winning book Eugene Bullard: World’s First Black Fighter Pilot now available in paperback

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

Eugene Bullard: World’s First Black Fighter Pilot by Larry Greenly

The award-winning book Eugene Bullard: World’s First Black Fighter Pilot by Larry Greenly is now available in paperback. This first YA biography of the trailblazing aviator has garnered many honors. In addition to receiving two awards for YA literature — the New Mexico/Arizona Literary Award and the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award — the book was acclaimed by Booklist magazine as one of the 10 Best Multicultural Titles for Youth in the Nonfiction category.

In recognizing the book for its award, Booklist noted, “The incredible story of Bullard, an African American pilot honored by the French yet shunned by Americans, receives a moving treatment here.” The magazine’s earlier starred review said, “Greenly crafts a moving, novelistic biography that portrays Bullard’s undying fortitude throughout his life. Meanwhile, the black-and-white photos, of everything from a teenage Bullard boxing to wartime aircrafts, add plenty of historical flavor.”

The story of pioneering aviator Eugene Bullard is known to military history and aviation enthusiasts, but is not as familiar to the general public. Eugene Bullard recounts Bullard’s story from his birth in 1895 in the segregated Deep South through his combat experiences as as expatriate pilot in World War I and World War II, to his return to America.

Kirkus Reviews said of the book, “Eugene Bullard had many fascinating adventures that will engage readers. A worthwhile introduction to a decorated hero of two world wars who overcame obstacles in difficult times.”

Eugene Bullard is available directly from NewSouth Books or your favorite book retailer.

Faye Gibbons wins Frank Yerby Award; inaugural award winner Ted Dunagan helps celebrate

Monday, March 14th, 2016 by Brian Seidman

Now we really have bragging rights! The Augusta Literary Festival named author Faye Gibbons winner of the 2016 Frank Yerby Award for her first young adult novel, Halley. The award recognizes Georgia authors whose work is distinguished by its literary excellence.

In the photo below she receives congratulations from another NewSouth Books author, Ted Dunagan, who received the Yerby Award in 2013 for the third in his popular Ted and Poudlum series, Trouble on the Tombigbee.

The Augusta Literary Festival honors the legacy of Frank Yerby, an African American writer born in Augusta, Georgia, who wrote many bestselling novels in the 1950s, including The Foxes of Harrow. We celebrate his life too.

Halley and Trouble on the Tombigbee are available from NewSouth Books or your favorite book retailer.

Chapter 16 lauds Crooked Letter i, honesty of contributors

Thursday, March 10th, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the South, edited by Connie GriffinChapter 16, the online literary review of Humanities Tennessee, continues the stream of praise for Crooked Letter i: Coming Out in the South with an exemplary review from Beth Waltemath.

The review notes that the book’s title reflects the fact that “words are merely symbols for a reality more complex than we can write down,” and praises the contributors to the book for elucidating their personal experiences of coming to terms with their identities.

Waltemath concludes, “In their honest depiction of struggle to find selfhood and love, the best gift these stories give us is the permission to be who we are, no matter which crooked path it takes us to get there.”

Crooked Letter i, edited by Connie Griffin and with a foreword by Dorothy Allison, is a collection of 16 non-fiction narratives that reflect the distinct “coming out” experiences of a complex cross-section of gay, lesbian, and transgendered Southerners from all walks of life and at different stages in their lives.

Crooked Letter i is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite book retailer.

“Virginia Currents” Ross Howell Jr. interview yields rich insights into Forsaken research

Friday, March 4th, 2016 by Lisa Harrison

Forsaken by Ross Howell

A post of Ross Howell Jr’s interview with Catherine Komp of WCVE on the station’s “Virgina Currents” website includes links to archival documents the author used in researching his historical novel Forsaken.

Visitors to the site can learn what intrigued Howell about the 1912 murder trial that ended with the execution of African American juvenile Virginia Christian, and view letters and telegrams to Virginia Governor Mann asking that the death sentence for Christian be commuted. Included is one such letter from Charles Mears, the reporter who becomes a leading character in Ross Howell’s novel. Audio of the interview includes readings from Forsaken.

For anyone interested in Jim Crow-era or Virginia history or the way history informs a work of fiction, Catherine Komp’s story is a great resource.

Forsaken is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Harper Lee remembered by Bob Zellner

Monday, February 22nd, 2016 by Suzanne La Rosa

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Bob Zellner, civil and human rights organizer and NewSouth Books author of The Wrong Side of Murder Creek, offers a personal reflection on the passing of literary great Harper Lee, who died on February 19; she was 89.

A great Alabamian has died. When I first read Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, I could tell the author was a Southerner by her description of the cordite smell of green pecan hulls and the indelible green stain they leave when crushed by young bare feet.

It also reminded me of the time when I got my first BB gun. Daddy sternly admonished me never to aim at anything I did not intend to kill. Especially, he warned, do not kill a mockingbird. Walking outside with my birthday gun in the spring of 1945 I saw a mockingbird perched in the top of a bush way over there in the back yard. Thinking I could not possibly hit a swaying bird with my very first shot, I aimed and pulled the trigger. To my absolute horror the bird slowly toppled to the ground and lay perfectly still. Not even considering a cover up, I rushed over and cupped the warm carcass in my hand, walked back in the house, and showed it to Daddy, knowing he was going to tear me up as only a Southern Methodist preacher could whip a willful six-year-old. Teacher, pastor and father in one package, the Rev. James Abraham Zellner taught me a good lesson that day. Maybe a God lesson. “I’m not going to whip you today, Bobby,” he said, “because you have just proved the wisdom of what I told you. You’ll remember this your whole life: Never kill a mockingbird.”

Harper Lee’s classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, was one of hope, young hope. Her last, Go Set a Watchman, a sad acknowledgment of the incredible power of racial hate in my home state of Alabama, reveals that Atticus was a Kluxer. She gives us one more reminder about how America, especially the American South, has yet to confront, admit, and rectify the original sin of legal racialism enshrined in its founding documents — African Americans were three fifths of a person.

When President Barack Obama won in 2008 only 11 percent of Alabama white voters could bring themselves to pull the lever enabling a black man and his family to move into the White House. So maybe it’s fitting that Atticus Finch — a huge hero in the early sixties for mounting a tepid and legally flawed defense of a black man in a Southern court — turned out to be a stone racist.

No wonder the South, as revealed by the Presidential campaign, is still the most reliable exponent of racial extremism. Are we indelibly stained by green pecan shells and the rank odor of racism or will poor and working class Southern whites finally scrub out that damned spot? We must stop voting against our own economic interests. Rich white people, “one percenters,” may indeed profit from racism, but poor and working class Southerners never have and never will. We have, along with black people, been grievously wounded by our racist practices. I believe that Harper Lee, and all the progressive folks who surrounded and sustained her, would agree with me that sisterhood and brotherhood is not so wild a dream as those who profit by postponing it pretend.

Bob Zellner, SNCC/NAACP

Bob Zellner’s memoir The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement is available in print and ebook from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.